We were lucky enough to work with renowned attorney James E. King ofthe King Law firm this week to put together some excellent programs on fee agreements. The first course discusses the ethics of fee agreements and the second course delves into what is considered a ‘reasonable’ fee.
Mr. King presented numerous nuggets of wisdom, but probably none greater than this kernel of truth:
“If one pays peanuts, one only expects to hire monkeys.”
And as criminal defense attorney Michael S. Discioarro aptly stated in another course on ethically representing criminal clients, you are an attorney, you deserved to get paid for your time – you are not doing charity work.
The fee agreement ensures that you get paid … and a well-written fee agreement means that you get to keep the fees that you have earned (as long as they are ‘reasonable’). If it does not get you paid by the client, at the very least the fee agreement may save you in an action from the State Bar or a malpractice proceeding. That’s because as soon as an attorney files a claim for unpaid bills from the client, the client usually turns around and files a malpractice suit and seeks to have the lawyer’s fees reduced. Without a solid fee arrangement, an attorney may have his or her bills reduced by 25% or disgorged completely if there have been egregious ethical slip-ups.
That’s why I am so amazed that attorneys routinely operate without fee arrangements or operate with poorly drafted fee arrangements. I have been told by a number of attorneys how surprised they were when they got a hold of another attorney’s fee arrangement and how poorly drafted it was.
Further, in addition to getting paid, the fee arrangement is the roadmap of the relationship between the attorney and the client. It sets the boundaries for the entire attorney-client relationship. Don’t like answering phone calls? If you charge the client for excessive calls, they will be less likely to call you every 5 minutes for updates on the case. Have a problem terminating clients? Make sure to include a clause that makes them pay for any extra copying of papers or files at the termination of the representation. The fee arrangement is the contractual agreement between the attorney and client.
The course is available here: Fee Agreements: Ethics & Reasonableness
I will leave you with one last quote from Abraham Lincoln (compliments of Mr. King) that comes from a speech he gave to a group of young lawyers in Illinois over a century ago:
“A lawyer’s time and advice are his stock in trade.”
Make sure you get paid for your time and advice – employ a well-written fee arrangement with every client.
ARBITRATION ADVISORY 03-01: DETECTING ATTORNEY BILL PADDING
ARBITRATION ADVISORY 11-01: ENFORCEMENT OF “NON-REFUNDABLE” RETAINER PROVISIONS
ARBITRATION ADVISORY 98-03: DETERMINATION OF A “REASONABLE” FEE
Let’s Be Reasonable
Cal Bar Sample Written Fee Agreement Forms
Mr. King is the founder of the King Law Corporation in San Diego and specializes in attorney fee disputes, legal ethics, and advises corporate counsel and law firms on litigation costs. Mr. King has testified as an expert witness on numerous attorney-client fee disputes and has represented prominent clients such as Heisman Trophy winner Rashan Salaam, Prince Fahd Aziz of Saudi Arabia, and attorney Robert Shapiro. Mr. King serves as a Special Master for the State Bar of California and is Vice-Chair of the Fee Arbitration Committee for the San Diego County Bar Association. Mr. King also lectures and publishes works on the ethics and reasonableness of attorney fee ethics and other legal ethics topics.